Here’s another installment in the series where WeLoveDC authors Donna (greenie) and Katie (foodie) pair up to bring you a double-hitting feature about local area restaurants that take on the challenge of being green. Donna will explain the logic behind the environmentally friendly trends and Katie will tell you if the food tastes any good. It’s a rough life, but someone has to do it, right?
Katie: So you don’t always think of a steakhouse as environmentally-conscientious, right? Well, Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak goes above and beyond the green call of duty, and plants their own vegetables, and works all of them into the dishes at the restaurant. Donna and I were invited over to the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown to take a tour of the garden and sample some dishes that used the herbs and veggies grown there on the property.
Donna: Last spring, Bourbon Steak created a small garden on its property, in a peaceable little spot just across from the C&O Canal. I was happy we were invited to tour this terraced plot and sample the dishes it flavors. It supplies the restaurant with 62 varieties of herbs, vegetables and flowers — 400 plants in all, some of which came from Amish farms. Look around, and up front you’ll see some plants you recognize, such as thyme, chives, marigold and different kinds of basil. Farther back are the harder-to-find plants that produce curries and other unusual spices.
Katie: So with all these herbs and vegetables grown on the property, could you taste the difference in the food? We headed inside for dinner to find out.
Donna: The cooks use the garden goodies in cocktails and in food. For example, before your meal, you’ll get three kinds of French fries, each paired with its own special dipping sauce. My favorite of the trio were the fries sprinkled with herbs. It might not make them healthy, but it does make them seem lighter somehow, and very tasty.
Katie: The fries are such a fun way to start the meal. We were also given some delicious truffle butter rolls that were one of my favorite dishes in September. The thing about Bourbon Steak is that everything is fantastic. Although admittedly heavy food, if you’re hungry, this is the place to be. The details in the dishes are impeccable, David Varley does a fantastic job. Even the playful fries, which could be a throwaway dish, are fried in duck fat and garnished with truffles – right on point with paired dipping ketchup and mayos.
I also had the minty cocktail ‘Forest For the Trees’ – the cocktail menu at Bourbon Steak is extremely extensive, almost a book, and full of fun and fresh libations. I was impressed at how large the cocktail menu is. From the girliest of sweet cocktails to the manliest of hard liquor on the rocks, you’ll find that there are herbs from the garden in a lot of them. I wasn’t in love with some of the cocktails I tried, some of them were too strong, or not my style, so I’d recommend telling the waiter or bartender what you like and going with a recommendation.
Donna: Herbs and flower petals from the garden also adorned the medley of carrots, cauliflower, green beans and more that came, a la grecque, with my garden salad. And mouthfuls of freshness burst from the Garden Herb Tabouleh with Tomato Confit.
Katie: Although I opted for heavy dishes, steaks and thick soups, I was impressed at the dishes that Donna had that were on the lighter side. The flavors of the herb salad stood alone, a light lemon dressing was a nice garnish for her salad. I also loved the tabouleh that we had as a side, the herbs were freshly chopped and I liked the light wheat as a change of pace.
Katie: I kicked off the meal with the white gazpacho, which I actually have attempted to make before, when David Varley shared his recipe with me for my Cold Foods for Hot Days feature. The gazpacho uses vegetable broth, and had some wonderful cucumbers in it. Perfect for a chef with his own garden!
Donna: The executive chef and the culinary team planted and now tend the garden. It’s a source of enjoyment and pride for the chefs, who go out each day to care for the plants and come back inside bearing the fresh harvest. It’s also both a training tool and a perk of working there, said Four Seasons Public Relations Director Liliana Baldassari. I like that they use no pesticides on the garden, controlling hungry bugs instead with a spray of hot pepper. They also fertilize the garden with compost made from their own food scraps, working with DC-based EnviRelation, which completes the cycle.
Katie: I’m admittedly a Ray’s the Steaks kind of girl, in my mind no steak can come close. But honestly? I found one that is equal. I loved my filet at Bourbon Steak, and although there’s not much eco-friendly about it, it was tender and savory. The sides that we chose for it, the mashed potatoes and the truffle mac & cheese were decadent. I took home the mac & cheese and heated it up for lunch at the office the next day and it was STILL unbelievably good. You see the little herb on top of my steak? That came from the garden. So there’s something, right?
Donna: Because a 500-square-foot garden can supply only so much food, I was curious to know what other steps the restaurant was taking to be eco-friendly. On a quick review of the menu, the name “Elysian Fields Lamb” stood out, because I’d heard of it before in conjunction with humane and natural farming techniques. “Amish Organic Chicken” did, too, and the Grimaud Farms Muscovy Ducks apparently are barn-raised without steroids, antibiotics or growth hormones.
Donna: That fish movie I saw earlier this year, The End of the Line, has made me suspicious about the origins of most restaurant fish, but the grilled salmon was wild, from Alaska, the best salmon option. It was juicy and garnished with herbs grown right out back — a dish that was delicious and green.
Katie: We rounded out a fantastic meal with fun desserts. I had a trio of sorbets and ice creams, and was able to taste a deconstructed tirimisu. It was creative and strong, with espresso soaked ladyfingers alongside marscapone. I adore Bourbon Steak, it’s wonderful for a tasty night out in Georgetown. And now that I know about the extensive drink menu, I’m sure I’ll be back for more happy hours. Plus, I can’t wait to see what next year’s garden brings!
Bourbon Steak is located in the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown at 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Closest Metro stop: Foggy Bottom/GWU (Orange and Blue lines). For more information, call (202) 944-2026.